The Dream of Perfect Pronunciation in English

Acquiring a perfect pronunciation in English is every English language students’ lifelong dream.

I remember I myself used to have this dream in some moment. I felt like I would never be a good speaker of English if I didn’t have a perfect pronunciation.

So, I believe it time we bring that issue up and talk about it.

I’ve been in the English Language Teaching field for more than two decades. I’ve given lectures to English language teaching professionals in so many places. I’ve been in touch with learners from so many towns in Brazil.

The questions I’ve often been asked is:

How can someone can sound like a native? How can I speak English like an American (or British)?

My answer to that has been the same for years:

If you’re not a native speaker of the language, you’ll NEVER sound like a native speaker of the language.

Although this is extremely frustrating, you have to accept that this is the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth.

However, you can do your best so as to “reduce” some of those tiny little things that may sound annoying.

Keep in mind though that this is a thing that you have to practice, practice and, of course, practice a little more and then keep practicing.

It’s not an easy thing, but getting close to a native-like pronunciation is not as impossible as you might think.

I am talking about native-like PRONUNCIATION, not native ACCENT. These are two very different things.

Native-Like Pronunciation vs. Native Accent

One thing that I always say is that a learner surely has to develop good pronunciation. However, in the article “What is good English Pronunciation?“, Tomasz P. Szynalsk tells us that

Good pronunciation is not perfect American or British accent.

I totally agree with his view.

A fun fact here: did you know that in the US there are more than 40 different accents of American English? And in the UK, there are more than 50 different accents of British English?

Perfect Pronunciation in English

An interesting question here is: what is a native English accent?

Keep in mind that English is also spoken in Australia, New Zealand, Guyana, Jamaica, Canada, Barbados, South Africa, Botswana, Solomon Islands, Uganda, Zambia and lots of other countries.

There are hundreds and hundreds of native English accents around the world.

A native accent is not the American accent ou the British accent.

Don’t be a douche who thinks that speaking like a native is speaking like an American. In other words, don’t be so short-minded to think that native equals American.

Focus on having a good pronunciation. That’s what it’s really going to help you to communicate well when talking to any person in the World.

Having a good pronunciation in English doesn’t mean you have to sound (speak) like a native speaker from the US or the UK.

Actually, the most important thing is being able to communicate well.

Another fun fact: In some regions of the United States or even United Kingdom, the sounf of the ‘th’ vary. That is, some people may pronounce it as if it were like a ‘t’, a ‘d’, a ‘z’, an ‘s’ or an ‘f’ sounds. I’m not making this thing up. This is written in English Pronunciation in Use, published by Cambridge University Press, a book used all around the world to teach and learn British English pronunciation.

Good Pronunciation and Good Communication

You, learner of English, have to worry about communicating your ideas clearly.

In order to achieve this you have to pronounce words correctly. However, that doesn’t mean you have to “become” American or British.

What you really have to worry about is being able to communicate well in the situations you’re going to be involved in.

Not only that, but you also have to learn that acquiring/learning English is an activity that you keep doing for the rest of your life. Yeah! Sorry to break it to you, but we never stop learning English.

So, this idea of sounding like a native may not be a thing to be too much worried about.

Pronouncing words correctly is a thing that you keep learning. Of course, you’ll learn the correct pronunciation of the most common words in English. Not only words, but also collocations, chunks of language, idioms, phrasal verbs, phrases, sentences, etc. This is what you have to focus on: learning new things every and each day.

Trying to sound like native is a waste of time, especially if you’re a beginner.

So, don’t worry too much!

Please don’t get too stressed out about speaking like a native. Enjoy the process of learning and you’ll become better day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year…

Some sounds are common in English but they are not common in Portuguese. That means you may never learn how to pronounce them correctly. Don’t think that you’ll never be understood because of that. You will.

This is so, because when one speaks, people who are listening get the whole sequence of words. They are not paying attention to the isolated sounds. They are listening to the context, the topic, the words in sequence…

In case you don’t know whether you’re pronouncing ‘man‘ or ‘men, don’t worry. It’s not the word alone that will hinder communication. The listener will get the whole sentence [there are two men outside…], not word for word or ‘sound for sound’. The whole sentence makes it clear that you’re saying something in plural not singular.

Another example is beach‘ and ‘bitch. If you say “Copacabana is a wonderful beach“, people will understand that you’re talking about an area of sand sloping down to the water of a sea or lake [= praia]. They’ll not get the wrong idea.

If you’re a beginner, remember that you have much more to learn. It’s not only the dream of the perfect pronunciation. In case you’re an intermediate learner, you’ll have to pay a bit more attention to some sounds. Now, if you’re an advanced learner of the language, you’ll have to practice more.

It’s all a matter of goals [what do you really want and why do you want it?]. But keep in mind that “you don’t have to sound like the Queen of England or the President of the United States of America”.

In a nutshell…

To sum up, don’t be too strict about your pronunciation. Listen to English as much as you can. Repeat a couple of sentences. Whenever possible, repeat them but don’t worry if you don’t sound like the guy on your favorite TV show. Listen to English and try to get close to the standards.

This is the greatest secret of all: just try to get close to the standard and communicate your ideas. Having a perfect pronunciation in English (sounding like a native) doesn’t have to be the top priority most of the time.

» Read more about pronunciation:


6 Comentários

  1. Dear Denilson, I'm thanked to your words. I'm attending an English course and my teacher complains every time about my pronunciation.I know I do my best but she isn't never satisfied with me.Augusta

  2. Hi, Denilso!How are you?So, thank's so much about this post! Please, keep on write English texts, it's so good to everyone! Congratulations about your blog.Cidy

  3. I have to disagree with the writer, some people can master and achieve a native level pronunciation, although it´s not an easy task which may take years of dedication and daily contact in a english speaking country i´d dare to say that it isn´t impossible though rare, specially when it comes to american english which is easier to make out, learning a language is an art, and like in all arts some are fit some aren´t.

  4. Congrats Denilson, I just loved that text, it was very well written and gave us the right idea about the English pronunciation. The most important point is to communicate!

  5. look, I liked of your post but I agree with Gabriel. I saw many American speaking portuguese and I thought that they were Brazilian. So I think that a Brazilian can speak as a American or until better

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